Sunday, May 3, 2015

final lacrosse bracketology

Here it is, the final projection for the lacrosse tournament.  The selection show is at 9:00 tonight, so in about four hours we'll see if I'm any good at this.

Some portions are easy.  The play-in games are not difficult to figure at all.  Geography and resumes converge to make them an easy call.  The top five seeds are relatively simple as well; I think I'd be surprised if they were in any other order than that one, and very, very surprised if it was any but those five teams.

The next three seeds are tough.  UVA is certainly one.  Maryland is almost certainly another, despite their late-season swoon.  (Their loss to Hopkins was huge for UVA.  Maryland had a common-opponent edge by having beaten UNC, and they lost that with their loss to Hop.  Throw in a semifinal loss to OSU in the B1G tourney, and there's no longer a strong justification to put them ahead of UVA.)

Cornell had held down the 8 spot for a while, but they're not the Ivy champion.  Yale is.  And when I was trying to figure out the last couple at-large spots and the Ivy League was well-represented among the contenders, I noticed one thing: they'd all beaten Cornell.  Cornell has one marquee win that didn't also beat them: Yale.  Despite that, I broke with my system and gave the final seed to Yale, based on being Ivy champs and also actually having a marquee win OOC (Maryland.)

The committee has some tough work to do on the last two at-large spots.  As I see it there are six plausible contenders: Georgetown, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Ohio State, and Marquette.  Harvard has wins over Yale and Cornell, but too many losses, including bad ones to Penn and Dartmouth.  Out.  Georgetown and Marquette don't have strong enough wins.  Marquette did beat OSU; their next best wins are Villanova and Richmond, neither of which are confused for contenders.  And the Hoyas are basically hanging their hat on two wins over Marquette, plus a win over Loyola.  Both out.

That leaves Princeton, Brown, and OSU for the final two slots.  Brown has a win over Princeton, which is hard to ignore.  But from a simple full-resume standpoint, I think Princeton is marginally the strongest.  They took Yale to the bitter end in the Ivy championship after upsetting Cornell, and they've beaten Yale earlier in the year.  They also have a win over Johns Hopkins.

In comparing Brown to Ohio State, you basically have a team that performed at a steady, decent level all year against a team with huge peaks and valleys.  Brown's best OOC win is Marist.  That's not too inspiring.  They did beat Princeton and Cornell.  But at some point, you just have to accept that the whole Ivy League is a blender that has spent a lot of time beating each other up.  Big OOC wins are important, which is why Yale gets a nod over Cornell and why Princeton gets a nod over Brown.  OSU, on the other hand, has been at times totally inspiring and at others a complete disaster.  The inspiring side (wins over Hop, Maryland, and, very importantly, Denver) outweighs the disastrous side (losses to Detroit and Rutgers and getting shut out by Notre Dame.)

So there ya have it.  If this is how it shakes out, it'll be fascinating for UVA.  A peaking-at-the-right-time UVA could put a stop to Lyle Thompson and Albany, who've inflated their stats against lame A-East competition, and then knock off a UNC team they nearly beat in the regular season to get to Philadelphia.  It's just as plausible to see UVA get rolled by Albany's firepower.  Of course, it's also just as plausible to see UVA get a totally different matchup - Princeton, maybe.  We'll find out at nine.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

a football peek

I'm so sorry to depress you like this in the middle of spring sports.  (Though if you've been following baseball, it'd be hard to be much more depressing than that.)  But we do still play football and with spring practice over, it's a good time to look in on the action.

First, a quick review of the attrition since the end of last season:

- David Watford transferred to Hampton.
- Eli Harold and Max Valles left for the NFL.
- Darius Lee is no longer on the roster.
- George Adeosun and Mario Nixon received medical scholarships.
- Dominique Terrell was granted his release last week.

We're probably not done.  Some names don't appear on the post-spring depth chart because they spent the spring sessions on the sidelines with some kind of injury (in fact, enough such players that you start to wonder about things) but in other cases....Terrell was conspicuously left off before his recent departure, and the end of the semester sometimes means others too.

I've updated the long-stagnant depth chart on this site to represent the post-spring situation. It includes brand-new tight end transfer Charlie Hopkins, formerly of Stanford.  Hopkins's arrival makes it 84 scholarships, for now.

The official depth chart is the really interesting read, though.  Here's how to interpret the info within:

-- Matt Johns is listed #1 at quarterback, without an "or".  Before Steve Fairchild's comments in Jeff White's column the other day, my opinion was that this means Johns is the starter in fall practice and the very likely starter against UCLA, but in no way should you make any wagers on who'll be the starter in November.  Or if we even have a proper starter.  What Fairchild said only strengthens that impression.  The cliff notes is that it's a continuation of this staff's maddening refusal to commit to a quarterback except in such instances as when it's to the detriment of the team.

-- The staff must really like UNC transfer-in T.J. Thorpe.  Thorpe is the only scholarship player listed on his side of the field at receiver.  Three scholarships each appear at the other two receiver positions.  That could be exciting, because Thorpe has always been a guy with burning speed but who hasn't put it all together just yet.  If he does, he could be a one-year wonder.

Most of the rest of the WR lineup isn't a huge surprise.  Doni Dowling is missing because he's hurt bad enough to miss the upcoming season, too, which sucks, but we have more depth than we need and plenty of candidates to make an impact.

-- A new RB coach in Chris Beatty could mean a fresh start for Daniel Hamm.  Granted, Hamm's big game was against hapless VMI, but his running in that game was still eye-opening.  Since then, nada.  Beatty seems to appreciate what Hamm brings - he's separated from the top line on the depth chart only by the dreaded "or", and on that note Hamm also has his scholarship, putting him on a more equal footing with the competition.

-- On the flip side, I really wish LaChaston Smith had been the linebacker that all the recruiting gurus had him pegged as.  We badly need the competition at linebacker this year, and Smith has been leapfrogged by redshirt freshman Jordan Ellis on the pecking order.

-- The depth chart has a note on it: "Some players not listed due to medical status during spring."  I suppose this means Dowling, but there's a few O-linemen to talk about too.  Sadiq Olanrewaju isn't there, and neither is Jay Whitmire.  I think it's fair to assume Dave Borbely, as a new coach to this outfit, isn't going to put someone on the depth chart if he hasn't seen them enough.

That said, everyone associated with UVA has burbled optimistically about Whitmire's return to playing status.  He did no such thing this spring.  He needs to actually play in a full game before I believe the optimism here.  Maybe two full games, since Demetrious Nicholson got in a game last year.

-- I really wish we would stick with a center the same way we need to stick with a quarterback.  Ross Burbank is back at right guard and Jackson Matteo at center.  But I kinda get it considering they have a "five best guys" philosophy and so many are hurt.  Sean Karl seems to be the next option at right guard, so putting Burbank there is OK by me since I still have bad memories of Karl's multiple matador performances on punt protection.

-- Likewise, the fact that Jake Fieler, a redshirt freshman, is ahead of Eric Smith on the depth chart would be awfully worrisome if it wasn't injury-related.  You'd have to wonder about Smith's development.  Oh, hell, it's worrisome anyway, but for different reasons.

-- The whole damn linebacker corps is getting replaced.  And the truth is, a LOT of eggs are in the starters' baskets.  Mark Hall, Micah Kiser, and Zach Bradshaw headline the list, and none of them have much experience because Valles, Coley, and Romero were so damn good.  Behind them is nobody who's played any linebacker at all.  Malcolm Cook slides down from safety; it's freshmen at the other two spots.  Prediction: a freshman is starting by the end of the season.  Too much competition to bet otherwise.

-- Last year the depth chart said 4-3, but the usual package was more a 3-3-5 nickel with Valles - a linebacker at times in name only - playing from the ground often.  That was because Valles turned out to be a major-league athlete.  Hall is not that athlete.  Does this mean back to a more traditional 4-3 most of the time?  I think it depends on what Bradshaw can do in coverage on slot receivers.  There's a plethora of cornerbacks pushing to get on the field - Tim Harris, Maurice Canady, and Demetrious Nicholson are all quality players and it's hard to imagine we don't see heavy use of all three.  The defensive ends might be tougher to take off the field than the linebackers, too.  The most likely look could be more of a 4-2-5 this year, because heavy use of the nickel is so often a necessity against today's offenses.


On the offensive side, the coaches have been talking about being more of a power running team than in the past.  Ostensibly this is because they like the play of fullbacks Vincent Croce and Connor Wingo-Reeves.  And sure, they probably do.  I have a hard time believing in this transformation.  There've also been noises about four-receiver sets and spread elements.  That's, like, two opposite ends of the spectrum.  I don't think you can be both Wisconsin and Oregon.  If you have two quarterbacks you don't have any - and the same goes double for offensive identities.

Power running is a mindset.  Bo Schembechler's philosophy was that if his guys were more motivated, and bigger and stronger and better at scrumming it up, he'd win.  It worked because that was before everyone had a million-dollar weight room and before Under Armour commercials convinced every college player they were DIZRESPECTED WARRIORZ.  It still works for teams like Wisconsin and Iowa because they commit to doing it and recruit for it.  We don't have boulder-sized offensive linemen, we just have offensive linemen, and if they're being asked to blow a hole open one play and finesse-block the next, I don't see how this works.


The last big news was the cancellation of the Stanford series and immediate replacement with Indiana.  Basically this is the front office doing exactly what I said couldn't and shouldn't be done.  Shouldn't, because  I figure we look like assholes for reneging on agreements.  So now, maybe we do, maybe we don't.  "Scheduling conflicts" was the reason, but Stanford has no replacement, so it's probably not their scheduling conflict.  At any rate, the schedule-for-success crowd has their win, and I'm not really bugging out because the 2017 schedule looks fine with Boise State, IU, and UConn and the 2018 schedule is nowhere near finished.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

Upsets this week conspired to shake the hell out of the bracket, and temporarily shrink the bubble.  Autobids this week are now handed out either to actual winners of them (Syracuse and Colgate) or to conference #1 seeds (everyone else.)

That includes everyone's favorite looming specter over the proceedings: Hopkins.  Yep, and not only that but they're in position to get an at-large invite if they don't win the B1G tournament, thanks to finally earning the signature win they lacked all season.  Their work isn't done, though.  Say they beat Penn State and lose to Maryland in the B1G tourney.  The RPI bump from that would be very slight, and some of their other metrics would drop.  The Ivy results will matter to Hopkins, too.  If, say, the Ivy final is Princeton over Yale, Hopkins would be sweating it out - Yale has the same signature win as they do, and very comparable metrics, better ones in some cases, worse in others.

The bubble is awfully interesting.  It doesn't include any of the "next four out" teams - the line is heavy and bold between "first four" and "next four."  It also doesn't include Harvard, which despite beating Yale this weekend can do nothing to improve their position.  It's basically seven teams: Hopkins, Georgetown, Yale, and Brown on the good side for now, and Marquette, Princeton, and Ohio State on the wrong side.  And all of them but Hopkins have excellent opportunities in their conference semis.  Brown and Yale face each other, as do G'town and Marquette.  Ohio State drew Maryland.  Princeton has Cornell.  Hopkins got Penn State, but if they win, they'll get their shot at a quality opponent too.  It's one of the most interesting bubble weekends in memory.

Last week's important games:

-- Patriot League tourney: Won by Colgate.

-- ACC tourney: Won by Syracuse, but Duke's semifinal win over Notre Dame was enough to boost them past Denver - even with the win by Denver in head-to-head.  With Duke playing Boston U. this week and Denver getting busy in the Big East tourney, I think Denver is a near sure thing to move back up to #4.

-- Denver 18, Marquette 11: Denver's been unstoppable in the Big East this year.

-- Cornell 15, Princeton 10: Nice win for Cornell, helps to solidify them among the seeded teams (and UVA, too) but the rematch next weekend will be more important.  They could lose that seed with a loss and a good showing by certain other teams.

-- Brown 17, Dartmouth 8: The Bears had no trouble, and earned their shot at their first tourney bid since 2009.

-- Johns Hopkins 15, Maryland 12: The Hop just couldn't leave well enough alone.  Not that I'm sorry to see Maryland lose, but bracketology is easier without a team with a resume like Hop's.  They've now guaranteed that they'll at least be at-large eligible; we'll see how the committee likes them.  Or not, if they win the B1G tourney.

This week's important games:

-- CAA tourney: Drexel / Towson, and Fairfield / UMass.  One bid, with Towson being the only one with a shot at hostig a play-in if they win.  Anyone else would go on the road barring a major upset in another one-bid league.

-- NEC tourney: Hobart / Bryant and St. Joe's / Mount St. Mary's.  St. Joseph's is the favorite, but no matter who wins they're going on the road for a play-in.

-- MAAC tourney: Detroit / Quinnipiac and Marist / Monmouth.  A surprise to see Siena completely out of the title picture, but they haven't been good all season and Marist has been just shy of dominant in conference play.  Marist could host a play-in game, depending on the results in the other conferences.

-- SoCon tourney: Richmond / Furman and Mercer / High Point.  Richmond and Marist are both hosting games in the bracket above, but that's because Fairfield is the CAA #1 seed.  If the actual favorite - Towson - wins the CAA, they'll take a hosting slot and leave the Spiders and Foxes to duel it out.  Edge to Marist because their RPI is currently higher, and it should stay that way if both win.

-- America East tourney: Stony Brook / Vermont and Albany / Hartford.  Albany's been so utterly dominant in their conference that it's hard to see them losing.  This is the only plausible location for a bid thief, though.  Albany currently slots between Georgetown and Yale in the at-large race - which means they're currently in, and could be even if they lose to, say, Stony Brook in the final.

-- Big East tourney: Now for the really interesting conferences.  Denver and Villanova, nobody cares; Villanova is no obstacle.  But Georgetown and Marquette is a huge bubble game.  The loser almost definitely doesn't dance.  The winner probably does, though that's slightly more likely if it's Georgetown.

-- Big Ten tourney: Ohio State / Maryland and Johns Hopkins / Penn State.  You're rooting for OSU here.  Their inexplicable loss to Rutgers - a blowout at that - put them at the bottom of the bubble.  They can rectify that with a win over Maryland, but it's not for their sake that we want them to win.  UVA is very securely nestled in the #7 slot, because Maryland has a win over UNC that UVA can't do anything about.  The one possibility for UVA to move up?  If the committee decides Maryland is on a late-season slide and penalizes them as a result.

-- Ivy League tourney: Brown / Yale and Cornell / Princeton.  Oh, the possibilities.  The big dance only has room for three Ivies at the most, and Cornell is definitely one.  Somebody is going home disappointed after being in contention all season.

Monday, April 20, 2015

hoops in review, part 1

This was promised to you much earlier, but then I realized: if I write this before Justin Anderson makes his decision known, the whole thing will be littered with uncertainty and caveats.  Now we know, so we can get the show on the road.

#0 - Devon Hall - rFr. PG

Preview quote: "UVA's backcourt is fairly young this year, so a good-sized contribution from Hall is more important than it might seem."

This didn't turn out that way, because there was such a quantum leap forward from other players.  Justin Anderson, of course, and London Perrantes also became more of a scorer.  Hall was decidedly the last rotation option in the backcourt, and scored more than three points just three times.  He sat out 11 games entirely, and in ACC action, saw just over five minutes a game - that is, outside a particular stretch late in the season.

That would of course be the stretch that Anderson missed.  Hall didn't play against Pittsburgh, but averaged 15 minutes in five others.  And when London Perrantes was suspended to start the season, Hall got his only start of the year, in game one against JMU.

And that in a nutshell was Hall's role: it was other guys who ran the show, mostly, but when a spot opened up, Hall was counted on for a decent share of the minutes.  Redshirting and then the understudy role probably wasn't what he envisioned to start his career.  But it's hard to say he deserved scads more time; his defense was OK but not outstanding (that said, the point guard isn't asked to be the star of the pack-line) and his offense wasn't as efficient as you'd like.  He showed some flashes at times.  The Wake Forest game - the curbstomping, not the close one - was a particularly excellent showing.  But overall he played about as well as his minutes imply.  Not lousy, or he wouldn't have been the first option to replace a regular in the rotation - but not much to take note of.

Anderson's departure opens up about 28 backcourt minutes.  Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon are just about maxed out, but the competition is still going to be fierce for them.  Darius Thompson joins the fray next year, and it's whispered he brings a quickness and slashing dimension to the team that was lacking this year.  Marial Shayok is due for a big increase too.  Hall will have to work his tail off this offseason if he wants to make a large dent next year.  His role should increase, but it probably won't be til 2016-2017, after this large crop of rising seniors graduates, that he really becomes one of the front-and-center players.

#1 - Justin Anderson - Jr. SF

Preview quote: "He's got to take some part of his game - any part of his game, it really doesn't even matter - up a level or two."

I don't know.  Do you think he might've accomplished that?

I guess if going from under 30% to over 45% behind the arc counts.  Anderson actually cooled off as the season went on, because he started up over 60% - after Tennesee State, which he buried with 5-for-5 three-point shooting, he was over 68%, five games in.

That was enough to capture a lot of attention nationwide, but Anderson also gave a few other parts of his game a lift - he became more dependable from the free throw line, he fouled less and played better defense overall (though with fewer circus blocks, unfortunately) and he took better care of the ball.  He singlehandedly answered the question of who would replace Joe Harris's scoring, and became the infectiously enthusiastic face of the whole team.  And then, because We Can't Have Nice Things, he broke his damn hand.

That was really what drove home the point about what he meant to this team.  UVA only lost one game without him, but they weren't easy wins, and three out of his four games after his return were a mess.  He scored zero points in the whole ACC tournament and only defensively-challenged Belmont allowed him to look like his former self.  Anderson's play suffered, and along with it basically the whole offense.

A terrific shame.  Anderson was an exciting player his first two years, but he was a ridiculously athletic curiosity for the most part.  An X-factor, but the game was dominated by others.  This year he took over and became the guy Maryland fans are still pissed off about missing out on.  This is what's most disappointing about Anderson leaving.  The team, actually, will be just fine.  Tony Bennett is working on a nice track record of seeing his players take huge strides in the offseason, and no doubt someone will do the same this year.  Or a couple someones.  In fact, the team might be best off in the long run for this - if Anderson returned, the backcourt would've been incredibly crowded.  Now, some younger guys will get extensive playing time and the baton will be more easily passed off in later years.  But a full year of a guy like Justin Anderson in a starring role would've been some of the best entertainment in all of college hoops.

#2 - B.J. Stith - Fr. SG

Preview quote: "Stith has a good head on his shoulders and a dad who won't let him screw himself up, so I'll put in a SWAG here and say Stith redshirts."

Well, that was over quick.  Stith didn't redshirt, but he might as well have for all the playing time he got - almost exclusively with the walk-ons at the end of blowouts - and amid a smattering of talk that cracking the rotation might not ever be in the cards, Stith decided to rejoin his father and brother at ODU next year.  We won't get to see the second chapter of a Stith lighting it up in a Virginia uniform after all.

#4 - Marial Shayok - Fr. SF

Preview quote: "Shayok's calling card when he came in was his versatility."

Honest, I totally forgot that I'd written that as I watched Shayok this season and thought, "man, this guy can score a lot of different ways."  Versatile was exactly the word for what he did with the ball.  He showed he could get to the rim; he showed he could shoot the three; he showed he could create a few chances for his teammates.  He played a reasonably steady 15 minutes a game - right about average for the fourth guy in the backcourt rotation - and had a higher assist rate than everyone but Perrantes and Brogdon, the team's highest steal rate, and the backcourt's best block rate.  A better block rate than Anderson, in fact, and Anthony Gill as well.

You can't ask for a lot more out of a bench guy, and you can't ask for preseason impressions to turn out much more accurate than that.  Shayok didn't do anything dominatingly well, and he was plagued with occasional freshman inconsistency, but he did a hell of a lot of different things at an ACC level.  Out of a fairly large group of freshmen, Shayok was easily the best.

A guy who can score a lot of different ways is a good bet to find chances to do it more often.  Shayok doesn't have the kind of wild athleticism you see in early draft entrants, and that means Tony Bennett might have hit the sweet spot in recruiting here.  Shayok appears to have a well-developed court sense and has a great chance to be a four-year star for the Hoos.  And for that matter, a three-year starter.

#5 - Darion Atkins - Sr. PF

Preview quote: "Atkins probably won't start many games, if at all, and isn't a huge scoring threat. He probably trusts his hook shot a little too much."

Nice preview.  Atkins started 27 games, in fact, including all of them but one after New Year's, and in that one he played 31 minutes.  Oh, and he was one of the most indispensible players on the team.  ACC Defensive POY.  That hook shot I thought he trusted too much became a deadly weapon.  Simply put, he was one of the ACC's best interior forces anywhere.

Atkins got back all the bounce and athleticism he'd lost when the shin splints struck him two years ago.  And he played with a chip on his shoulder, as if making up for lost time and getting revenge on the fates that robbed him of a year and a half of usefulness.  It was so much fun to see him get that redemption and his year in the spotlight that nobody minded a bit when he got a technical for hanging on the rim against VT.  Sometimes you just let a guy have a moment.  This was the player that UVA and Notre Dame fought over in the recruiting wars.

Stories like his are what make college hoops fun.  Now there's a small conundrum.  Before the season the whole fanbase figured that "only" losing Atkins would mean basically the exact same team would come back next year, only a year older and stronger and wiser.  Now he's gotta be replaced.  It won't be easy; whereas Atkins was plausibly seen as very similar to Akil Mitchell, there isn't anyone left in that mold, nor much experience among the candidates.

#10 - Mike Tobey - Jr. C

Preview quote: "Keep him on the development curve at the same time and he's got a chance to open a lot of eyes in the ACC this year."

There hasn't been a more polarizing UVA basketball player since Sammy Zeglinski.  With Tobey, whether you like his game or not, there's evidence to support your position.  Tobey was only a secondary scorer at best, and his minutes actually dropped from last year.  He's really not useful against teams without big traditional centers, because he's fairly easily beaten on the block by smaller, quicker forwards.  His defense is a little slow and he doesn't appear to be a natural in the pack-line.

On the other hand, he's extremely useful against teams that do have traditional centers, because he's almost always much more skilled than they are, able to guard them with relative ease thanks to the security blanket of the pack-line and his better athleticism, and he has little trouble scoring against slow-footed galoots.  This season was easily his best offensively.  He was much more efficient than last year; he shot free throws as well as most guards, he was a terrific rebounder especially on offense, he made good outlet passes, and he turned the ball over very little.

I think a lot of criticism directed at Tobey - much of it to do with a perceived lack of effort - is unwarranted.  It's not any more valid than the idea that Atkins was disgruntled and unhappy because his face was kinda hangdog all the time.  Amateur psychology.  That and the expectations heaped on him when he was recruited.  If there were no such thing as recruiting analysts, Tobey would catch a lot less flak.  That said, he can be maddening at times.  He needs to find ways to get himself on the court more.  If he does, he's still got it in him to be an all-ACC player.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

This wasn't a big week for change; most if not all of the top 8 seeds are in the same place they were last week.  Even Cornell, which took a big Brown dump this week.  The biggest effect of that loss is to put Princeton in the Ivy lead this week, bid-thieving Marquette in the process.  The Tigers lurk as a dangerous bubble team in what is basically a fight between Ivy (Brown, Princeton, Yale) and Big East (Georgetown, Marquette) teams for the last few bracket slots.

Prognosticators suggest that a UVA loss to Penn next week could knock the Hoos out of hosting duties.  Don't you buy it.  Cornell is still the #9 RPI team and thus still a strong win, and Georgetown is only a couple spots behind.  The Hoos have nothing to show against the major national contenders, but have still firmly established themselves ahead of the rest of the pack.  Simply put, the resume isn't wonderful, but there's nobody else to knock them out of the top eight.

Other notes:

-- Towson also suffered a bad loss, and while they're still in the CAA driver's seat, it put them behind the Patriot League rep in RPI and thus forced them to the play-in game.

-- Look who's back - kinda.  Hopkins is 6-6 and now technically eligible, but they're further from real consideration than that graphic implies.

Last week's games of interest:

-- Maryland 10, Ohio State 9: The third one-goal win in a row for the Terps - this one in OT - is starting to raise a few questions about their ability to compete for the title.  You don't almost lose to Rutgers.  Their resume is largely unimpeachable, though, with only the Yale loss to blemish it.

-- Duke 15, Marquette 8: Marquette is a decent candidate for a berth and could certainly make it, but they don't inspire a lot of confidence they can upend their eventual host.  This could hurt them in the committee room.

-- Virginia 12, Georgetown 9: That should seal up a tournament game at Klockner.  No, scratch "should" - it absolutely will.

-- Brown 15, Cornell 6: This game was in Providence, so it's not that surprising Cornell lost; it is surprising they lost by nine.  Fortunately for UVA, Cornell stays in the RPI's top 10.

-- Notre Dame 15, North Carolina 14: My system doesn't give the Domers that big of a lead over Cuse and the Heels for the #1 spot, but that's because it doesn't take into account the size of the gap in various stats, only whether Team A is ahead of Team B or vice versa.  Also, the committee takes into account "average RPI of your losses" and Notre Dame's RPI is so flippin' high they're skewing the teams they beat way upwards.  None of that matters; ND is in fact so far in first place that I think they'd keep the #1 seed even if they lost in the ACC tournament.

-- Albany 12, Yale 11: I said last week UVA wanted the Danes to win, and they delivered.  The threat that Yale might move up to a top-8 spot is all but eliminated.  Albany, meanwhile, got a little insurance against losing the A-East tournament.  It's not ironclad, but it'll help.

Next week's important games:

-- Patriot League tourney: It's a 6-team affair with Bucknell playing Lehigh and Army against Loyola, with Colgate and Navy awaiting the winners.  (I've been erroneously assuming four teams, but nope.)  Not one of these teams is even a remote threat to get an at-large, so there are no bid thieves here; just one spot on the line between a lot of evenly matched teams.

-- ACC tourney: Notre Dame vs. Duke and UNC vs. Cuse.  The system churns out all four of these teams as the top four in the country; I moved Denver ahead of Duke for the head-to-head result.  Even so, you can see the implications; Duke could easily move up by winning this shindig.  This tournament is obviously going to help decide the seeding at the top of the bracket, and that's no small thing because the top six seeds are clearly a cut above everyone else.  The 7 and 8 seeds - at the moment, Cornell and UVA - are much less of a threat, while nobody wants to play Maryland at #6, nor Denver either.  Being top two will matter.

-- Denver at Marquette: Yet another chance for Marquette to prove themselves.

-- Princeton at Cornell: Princeton looked finished after bad losses to Stony Brook and Lehigh, but they could earn a lot of redemption here.

-- Brown at Dartmouth: You wouldn't think Dartmouth would ever figure into tournament seeding, but here's the deal: Brown is 3-2.  So are Cornell and Yale, and Penn is 3-3.  Brown loses every possible tiebreaker combo among all these teams but one: Brown-Cornell-Penn, which would come down to goal differential.  There's no way they get into the NCAAs if they don't make their conference tourney, which makes Dartmouth a must-must-win.

-- Johns Hopkins at Maryland: A Hopkins win here would light a fuse.  Would a 7-6 Hopkins team, with losses to six tournament teams (as long as Towson is one) and one marquee win, be worthy of inclusion?  Hopkins fans are so fed up with their team they probably wouldn't consider it a snub if the answer was no - but if the answer was yes, you can count on a lot of furious talk about protecting the old guard and TV ratings and such.  I think they'd still have a hard time getting past teams like Brown (assuming Brown takes care of business) but for the sake of sanity it's probably best for everyone if Maryland wins.  (A phrase I can't believe I just said.)  Hopkins would then be forced to get the autobid or nothing, and the decision would be out of the committee's hands.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Dom Starsia's formula for success has never really been a secret.  Recruit the most athletic players he can find, emphasize hard work and effort, and give them copious freedom to operate.  When it works, it's dynamic and entertaining.

Alas for Starsia's less-talented squads, "play smart" isn't a top priority.

This has been eminently on display the past couple weeks.  UVA had three times as many turnovers as goals against UNC, and over twice as many against Duke.  When we got a peek into the timeout huddle during the Duke game, I thought Dom might suggest, just once, that a handy trick for winning the game might be to observe the fundamentals of passing and catching.  He didn't.  He did exhort his team to have an extended possession, which might have been a roundabout way of doing so.  They must've decided 30 seconds was extended enough, because about that much game time later Duke was merrily clearing the ball and finding a nice easy path to the goal.

Observing the fundamentals of passing and catching has been awfully damn elusive of late.  Simply put, this is some horsecrap sloppy-ass lacrosse they're playing.  I'd like to blame it on youth, but there was Owen Van Arsdale lazily reaching toward a lazy pass, and missing.  There was Tyler German with a laser focus on reaching the corner of the box to complete a clear and no plan at all upon arriving, coughing up the ball as a result.  There was Ryan Tucker dodging his way straight into a double-team and freezing, paralyzed with indecision at the gall of the defenders to be defending.

Of course this team went 0-4 in the ACC; it's unrealistic to expect any wins when the offense, supposedly the highly efficient hallmark of this team, keeps shooting itself in the head.  I could deal with it if opposing defenses were taking the ball, or their goalie was putting up a stone wall, but what's really frustrating to watch is when two former weaknesses stop being weaknesses, and the strength of the team suddenly turns into brainless mush.

This team will still make the tournament and will probably host a game.  For all its irritating foibles, it's still one of the top eight teams in the country.  That's pretty amazing after losing to the whole ACC in ugly fashion, but it's taken really good teams to expose UVA's flaws enough to beat them.  I mean, at least we're not Hopkins, which just needed two overtimes to beat 3-8 Penn State.  The angst here is rooted in not being much of a national title contender.  At least if we're gonna be angsty about lacrosse, it's the right kind of emo.

Notes and stuff:

-- Matt Barrett, man.  UVA just wasted two of the best performances by a UVA goalie in I don't even know how long.  Very often in lacrosse, good goalie play is indistinguishable from bad goalie play until after the fact.  It's not like hockey where a bad goal sticks out like a sore thumb; you just sort of start coming to the realization that your goalie has let in too many shots.  If that realization doesn't happen, you've been getting good goalie play.  That's what Adam Ghitelman was like.  That's not what Matt Barrett has been like; he's made stops goalies have no business making.  My personal favorite was having his pass intercepted from a foot and a half away - very bad - then making the save from the same distance - even better.

-- Remember how Matt White kept playing midfield when he should've been playing attack and everyone was all "WHY??" It's almost like having Greg Coholan at attack is balancing that out.  The only difference is everyone knows why Coholan is playing attack.  (No Pannell.)  Frankly, though, it's a shame the depth at attack is such that it's preferable to cannibalize the midfield.

-- Stupidball, by the way, has not been limited to these last two games.  UVA won the Hopkins game despite taking multiple pages out of the Mike London Textbook of Personnel Management.  This included but was not limited to a player entirely forgetting that he was supposed to be on the field and wasting most of an EMO as a result.  I bring this old news up to illustrate what a season-long struggle this has been.  And the announcers, by the way, made a habit of pointing out a number of bad substitutions on UVA's part against Duke.

-- At least UVA gets a moral victory by not pulling off the Duke game's worst moment.  No, that was Duke's befuddling clear attempt in the second quarter, forgetting entirely about the 30-second clock.  It was a hell of a lot of fun to watch Duke piddle the whole time limit away for absolutely no reason, spoiled only by the announcers completely ignoring it and carrying on their talk-show conversation about something totally unrelated.  You want to know why people don't watch lacrosse as much as you'd like?  It's because when little-used rules come into play, the announcers are too busy blathering to explain the odd situation on the field.

-- I said it as part of bracketology yesterday, but it bears repeating: Beat Georgetown and a tourney home game is a lock.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

Lacrosse TV announcers - and Paul Carcaterra in particular - have this really annoying habit where instead of calling the game in front of them, they instead host a lacrosse talk show with a live game in the background.  Thus it was that during the Michigan-Ohio State game, Carc and his announcing partner got in a heated debate over whether UVA would be a lock to make the tournament or not.

It was a pretty stupid debate, because neither of them, in their spirited repartee over whether wins over Cornell and Loyola were good enough to be tournament material, managed to remember the upcoming game against Georgetown.  At times though, the debate veered in the direction of sanity; Carcaterra (who took the side of UVA and declared the Hoos a lock) demanded to know who in the at-large realm had anything better.

Therein lies UVA's salvation.  An 0-4 record in the ACC is a failure by all definitions, but the other salient point made by announcers (this one by Ward and Shraf during the UVA-Duke game) was that even the loser of that game would probably be the best team in any other conference.  Only two teams anywhere outside the ACC can claim a win over an ACC team - Denver (twice) and Maryland.  For this reason I struggle to say UVA would be the best team in the Big East or Big Ten this year, but Bill Tierney and an ACC exile is not bad company either.

Denver and Maryland are accordingly seeded above UVA, where they'll stay.  Take a look at the rest of the at-large contenders and their resumes; you might say you shouldn't get to the tournament based on who you lost to, but UVA combines a win over Cornell (still a strong contender) with no bad losses.  (Detroit over Ohio State, anyone?  Bellarmine over Marquette?  And those are teams actually in the bracket.)

So if you're tempted to worry UVA isn't even a tournament team let alone a seeded one, don't.  UVA can lock in a seed with a win over Georgetown, and even, heaven forbid, with a loss, isn't out of contention to host a game.

Some other notes:

-- Princeton, already with a tenuous grip on their tourney spot, shat the bed like crazy with a loss to Lehigh.  They can't be counted totally out, but that loss was absolutely murder.

-- If it weren't for that pesky rule about not matching up teams from the same conference, this bracket would've been fairly easy to put together from both a geography and a seeding standpoint.  (The committee claims that they don't seed the road teams because travel is the main concern, but results have shown they do in fact care about, say, not putting the #9 or #10 team against the #3 or #4 seed.  They don't totally scramble the pecking order in favor of travel.)  Yale ought to play Cornell and Marquette ought to play Denver in this bracket, but they can't.

-- The system I use says Syracuse should stay above UNC.  I was like, nah, they shouldn't.

Last week's games to watch:

-- Notre Dame 14, Marquette 7: As it turns out, Marquette can in fact get back into the field just by losing this game.  They needed that Princeton loss, too, though.

-- Maryland 11, Loyola 10: An incredibly close game that would've put Loyola in the field had they won it.  Drop Marquette, move Georgetown to the Duke game, and give Loyola a rematch against Maryland; that's what the field would look like this week with just a break or two the other way.

-- Yale 16, Brown 10: The Bears are starting to play the Hopkins role of boat-floater.

-- Navy 10, Army 7: Big win for the Middies that secures them a top-two seed in the very parity-laden PL tournament.  Despite the loss, though, Army is also in, and the field is set with Colgate and Loyola rounding it out.  Right now, Navy sits in the play-in game, but whoever comes out on top of the PL tourney will have a big resume-booster that should get them into the real first round.

-- Towson 8, Fairfield 7: The Tigers are slowly locking up the CAA, which they'll need to do with no blemishes in order to stay out of the play-in.

-- North Carolina 17, Syracuse 15: Goes to show how much lacrosse is really left in the season even when it's technically half-over; Syracuse looked unassailable a few weeks ago.

-- Duke 15, Virginia 8: One of these years, man.

Next week's games to watch:

-- Maryland at Ohio State: To borrow Bubble Watch terminology, OSU "should be in" but beating Maryland would make them a lock.

-- Duke at Marquette: Meanwhile, Marquette has "work left to do" - although they quite honestly could lose their way into the tournament.  They have Duke, Denver, and then almost certainly Georgetown in the Big East tournament - all of which are on their way to being in the bracket themselves.

-- Georgetown at Virginia: I'll guarantee you right now that UVA hosts a first-round game if they win this one.  Write it in stone.  If not....maybe still, but I'd rather not think about that.

-- Cornell at Brown: Cornell has two big games in a row; Brown and then Princeton.  Both teams will be gunning for the Big Red as their only path to a dance ticket.  Your rooting interest is Cornell so as to keep it a marquee win for UVA.  If Cornell crashes, the committee will look at Yale and Ohio State and probably consider that a team with a marquee win and a bad loss is a better hosting choice than a team with decent wins and no bad losses.

-- North Carolina at Notre Dame: A battle between #1 and #2, both in the conference and nationally.

-- Yale at Albany: The Elis are knocking on the door of a seed, and probably ahead of Ohio State in the pecking order to get a home game.  Since UVA is one of the teams they'd be taking that seed from, an Albany win would be helpful here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

**Note - it was Easter yesterday, I hope the Easter Bunny brought you enough candy to stuff your face for a year, since he didn't bring you any bracketology posts and in retrospect was never going to.  Lacrosse bracketology will serve for this week's Monday post, but a basketball season retrospective is also just around the corner, so keep an eye out for that.

Johns Hopkins continues to make me look like an idiot; right after I said the field was close to all set, they lose to Ohio State and in doing so launched OSU so far into the field they hardly know what a bubble looks like anymore.  Hopkins is the gift that keeps on giving.  Common sense says that beating a 4-6 team that's only beaten mediocre teams at best (Villanova, Navy, Rutgers, and UMBC) shouldn't be a tournament resume-builder.  RPI says otherwise.  I don't think RPI is as bad as many people say, but it's a very blunt instrument.  The fact is that Hopkins probably would actually be favored over most if not all the teams below it in the RPI, which means RPI isn't quite as stupid as it looks - but the other fact is that resume-wise, theirs is in absolute tatters and therefore they really shouldn't be the boost that they are.

But RPI and its offshoots like "top-20 wins" are the tools the committee uses, so there you go.  Ohio State now looks to be in decent shape.  With Yale being the only Ivy contender that didn't fall flat on its face this week, the new bubble battle is between Princeton and Marquette - and Marquette has such a tough schedule coming up that their RPI can't help but go up, so counting them out of the field at this point would be crazy.

Here's what happened in last week's big games:

-- Syracuse 17, Albany 12: Albany would be in the field without the autobid - this week - thanks to the RPI boost from just playing Syracuse.  The rest of Albany's schedule is mostly crappy, though, so it's a short-lived jump.  The one possible exception: if they can pull off a win against Yale.

-- North Carolina 10, Virginia 6: UVA's three losses are now 1, 2, and 3 in the bracket.  I promise that's not just me being a homer.  With a top-ten RPI, UVA is a little bit like a good Johns Hopkins.

-- Loyola 17, Navy 7: Proving that the Patriot League is still bats.  It opens up a new and interesting race: If Towson remains the CAA representative, there's a battle brewing between them and the PL champ to stay out of the play-in games.  Navy currently has the autobid because rules (they're 5-2 while the next best team is 4-2) but Loyola and Army both have better resumes.

-- Notre Dame 15, Duke 10: The Domers are solidifying their #1 seed.

-- Ohio State 15, Johns Hopkins 12: We see the results of this game above.  OSU is suddenly a contender.  Hopkins, on the other hand, must either win out the regular season or earn the autobid - those are their only two paths to the tourney.

And next week's games of import:

-- Marquette at Notre Dame: Can Marquette get back into the field simply by losing this game?  Very possible.

-- Loyola at Maryland: The Greyhounds aren't out of this yet.  Bubble life will be interesting if they win this.  Most of the Ivy League is rooting against them.

-- Brown at Yale: Brown's star is fading fast; they can reverse that trend quickly with a win here.

-- Army at Navy: Huge game for PL leadership.... which will probably be superseded by whatever happens in the conference tourney anyway.

-- Towson at Fairfield: CAA leadership is on the line here, and this game - like those in the PL - has implications for the play-in game as well.

-- Syracuse at North Carolina: Seeding battle.

-- Virginia at Duke: The winner is positioned extremely well for a middle seed, at least a #6.  The loser has to sweat out the Ivy League to hope someone doesn't steal a hosting spot.

Monday, March 30, 2015

lacrosse at midseason

It's not strictly midseason when you've got 10 games down and three to go in the regular season, but really, in the lacrosse season, only when it's half over does it really begin.  It's a good time to take stock of things.

Shame it was, that the best game of the season also happened to come the same weekend as the abrupt ending of the basketball season, which demanded attention.  The Hopkins game deserved a bunch of attention too; it was the second OT win over Hopkins in a row, and I say it was UVA's most entertaining win since Bucknell.  UVA-Hop rarely disappoints.

Hopkins is having a crappy season; they're at critical risk of missing the tournament for the second time in three years.  That doesn't make them not fun to beat and it doesn't make them not dangerous.  The effort put forth in winning - despite a major disadvantage in possessions thanks to the usual faceoff deficiencies - was impressive.  Hopkins was held below their usual efficiency as I calculate efficiency, marking a solid game by the defense.  And let's not kid ourselves here, an excellent game by Matt Barrett, who is starting to look like the four-year starter we need him to be.  13 saves and 15 goals don't tell the story.

Interestingly, I think the game provided ammo to both sides in the debate between people who think lacrosse needs to be faster, faster, faster, and the side that says lacrosse is basically fine and slowing down is often a perfectly legitimate strategy.  (Far as I can tell, the latter contingent consists of me.)  This was a high-possession game, and the see-saw goal-scoring is a huge part of what made it entertaining.  Not to mention it helps strengthen rivalries; any Virginia fan who didn't get really damn sick of the Hopkins clap-along every time they scored, is deaf.

On the flip side, Hopkins came under quite a bit of criticism for not stalling at the game's end.  With two-plus minutes on the clock, a two-goal lead, a two-man advantage, and the ball, Hopkins looked like a damn safe bet to win.  The refs wouldn't have put a shot clock on until after the penalty was over and Hopkins could easily have burned half the time remaining just by playing four corners.  Instead they slung the ball aimlessly at the net, which set off a sequence of events that gave UVA a goal shortly after.  Then they generally failed to anticipate that Dom Starsia would pull the trigger on the most obvious move in the book - pull the goalie in order to double the ball - and got burned again.  By the same token, UVA benefitted tremendously from stall tactics - again the obvious move of sacrificing 15-ish seconds of man-up time in order not to risk a faceoff to start OT.  People who want a shot clock in lacrosse ought to remember that it really puts a team who's earned a lead at a big disadvantage.  Maybe that's a feature and not a bug, I suppose.

Anyway, very nice game.  What's it say about the rest of the season?

The same thing the Cornell game said, I think: This is a team with a split personality, which doesn't change from game to game or even quarter to quarter - it can switch from Jekyll to Hyde minute by minute, possession by possession.  It can utterly stink for an entire half, it can make amateurish mental mistakes, and then it can do magic tricks to astound the mind.  The result is a team that is close to a lock to not only make the tournament, but even host a tournament game, when frankly I'd've been hard-pressed to expect that before the season.  It's also a team at severe risk of going 0-4 in the ACC and being left out of the ACC tournament for the second straight year.  Between UNC and Duke, the easier game is clearly Duke, at least on paper; in the realm of the sport supernatural, Duke remains an insurmountable obstacle.

UVA will probably lose to both, then beat Georgetown and Penn and roll into the NCAA tournament seeded somewhere 5-8, where the most likely outcome is a win and then a loss.  Since making the Final Four with some regularity is the expectation around here, and UVA is at risk of sending a graduating class on their way without ever going, you'd be forgiven for considering that a failure.  On many levels it is.  But this is still the second take on rebuilding since the national title in 2011.  And I think the words I wrote to cap off the season preview still ring true: "But if this is a rebuilding year, it looks like a much better one than the 2013 disaster, and this rebuild has a much better chance of clicking."  It hasn't been the ideal we-don't-rebuild-we-reload process over the past few years.  But this version of the process is building up a lot of valuable experience and still remaining relevant on the landscape, unlike, say, 2013, or our Baltimorean rivals.  I can't complain.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

That's this week's bracket.  I present it without a lot of distracting blather this week.  I'm usually pretty confident in the outcome, but this week even more so.  Some weeks are like that.  Everything just makes sense this week.  If Towson and Richmond - the teams with the best resumes in their conferences - were getting the autobids at the moment, it'd make even more sense.  But it wouldn't change much about the placement of teams in the bracket.

A few notes:

-- Ohio State continues to be just a sliver behind Yale for the last spot, and once again the difference is OSU's bad losses.  The system figures them incredibly close, but using actual judgment makes it easy.

-- Brown is also knocking on the door; let's see what happens when they get around to playing Yale.

-- Nobody else is close.  Very small bubble this year.  Towson has nothing but CAA games left, and the CAA isn't good enough to earn someone an at-large bid.  Villanova wouldn't be in without a lot of help even if they beat both Denver and Georgetown, the next two games on their schedule.  The rest of the so-called bubble is Patriot League teams, who are just going to beat each other up.

-- All this also means that bid thieves should be close to nonexistent.  I only see three realistic possibilities: Villanova, Ohio State (if you can call moving up from "first team out" bid theivery) and Johns Hopkins.  Nova is likely to be the 4th seed in the Big East tournament, but even then, if they win it, they'll probably just replace another Big East team - Georgetown, say.

The Hop is a huge wild card.  They're the joker in the deck.  At 4-5 they don't qualify to be in the conversation right now, and they have OSU next week.  If they win that, they'll appear on the page somewhere, but probably not actually in the bracket.  If they lose, it'll be weeks before we even discuss them again.  They could make an upset-run through the Big Ten tourney and make the B1G a two-bid league.

But that's the only one-bid league that can become a two-bid league.  Albany is close, but a loss to anyone in their crappy league would torpedo any at-large hopes they ever had.  (They do have Yale on their schedule, which could make things interesting, but still.)

Last week's games of interest:

-- Albany 21, Harvard 18: Albany is doing their best, though.  I think they've been hamstrung a bit by their schedule; Drexel, UMass, and Harvard were all supposed to be good schedule-boosting teams, and they just haven't been.

-- Colgate 11, Loyola 4: This is what I mean by the Patriot League beating itself to death.  Loyola is - or was - the team in this matchup with the far superior resume, and Colgate crushed them.

-- Navy 14, Boston U. 6: It's a bit amazing that Navy has managed to stay above it all.  Pity they had that one loss to Bucknell - it's standing between them and the insulation of a possible at-large bid.

-- Notre Dame 13, Syracuse 12: And in two overtimes.  A game between the two best that didn't disappoint.  The Domers are now in the driver's seat, and their schedule is tough the rest of the way.

-- Towson 6, Massachusetts 3: Towson does look like the strongest team in the CAA, but it's a very parity-filled league as well and the race for the auto-bid there is just getting cranked up.

-- Army 12, Bucknell 4: Five of the PL's nine teams now have exactly three wins, and four of them are 3-2.

-- Denver 19, Georgetown 7: As it turns out, Georgetown's resume withstood that blow pretty well.

-- Marquette 9, Villanova 8: The bubble could've been a deal messier if Nova had won that one, but Marquette remains in very solid shape.  Richmond made a very big deal out of getting to the tournament in their first year of existence, and that's nice work and all, but for my money, Marquette earning an at-large in year 3 would far more impressive than winning the fledgling Atlantic Sun (now Southern) Conference.

-- Brown 10, Princeton 8: If Hopkins is everyone's resume booster, Bucknell is everyone's resume ruiner.  I was a little surprised this didn't push Brown higher on the food chain, but they've played too many crappy teams to overcome their Bucknell loss.

-- North Carolina 15, Duke 14: Duke's resume is surprisingly soft.  Their best win is Georgetown; otherwise it's more about who they've lost to than who they've beaten.  The only reason they're hosting a game in this week's edition is because nobody below them has a better win.  Naturally, they're still going to beat the hell out of UVA just because.

This week's games to watch:

-- Albany at Syracuse: This is how Albany could earn at at-large bid.  Otherwise, forget it.

-- North Carolina at Virginia: Mainly for seeding purposes, and for the Hoos to try and avoid the Penn game.  Which itself would be a big help in seeding.

-- Navy at Loyola: Let's see how Navy handles the last two games on its schedule, probably the two toughest it has in conference play.

-- Notre Dame at Duke: Duke's chance to put a marquee win on its resume and leapfrog a bunch of teams.

-- Johns Hopkins at Ohio State: I built this great spreadsheet that calculates RPI and all the associated doodads that go along with RPI that the committee uses for its selection criteria.  That means that often I can kind of cheat on bracketology if a Sunday game or three look easy to predict.  I just enter the result before those games actually end, or, in some cases, before they begin.  Next week I have no hope of this.  This is the last game of the week and it has just enormous bubble implications.  An OSU win would likely put them in the bracket, because of the boat-floating nature of Hopkins and because Yale is only playing Dartmouth.  And Hopkins wouldn't even be able to be considered for another two weeks.  If Hopkins wins, OSU is almost certainly sunk and the Hop would probably appear in the "first four out" section, with a decent chance of moving into the bracket in later weeks.  Either way, Yale is looking over their shoulder.